As I write this, the Women’s March is currently taking place across the country and the numbers are staggering. So far, it’s been peaceful and I am unaware of any counter protests. My hope is that the day remains peaceful and the message is effective. To do so, however, requires more than a march. To effect change of this kind is not a grassroots effort. It is within the grassroots: Within individuals. And to begin change it will take individual efforts to communicate with other individuals on a personal level. Face-to-face conversations and dialogue of curiosity* aimed at understanding. This is not easy. It is not quick. It is not straightforward.
In mediation we help parties to understand their own interests AND those of the other party. While the first task seems easy, it can be just as difficult as the second. Understanding one’s own interests requires introspection and personal challenging of positions. It most often requires a recognition or realization that s/he is wrong, which meets resistance. Many times a party is so focused on her/his position that they forget why they took such position in the first place, or their reasoning is influenced by emotion. This is not wrong, and emotions ought to be acknowledge. Yet, allowing their total influence just makes progress more difficult.
If a goal of the Women’s March is for Trump to leave office…and he leaves office…then what? Does this really resolve the issue? If the issue is his removal, then yes it does. If the issue is working towards (inter)national equality, then it really does not. There are more steps to take. And this leads us to the second effort: Understanding the other party’s interest. Like the first, this effort is not easy. Making it more difficult is the fact that the other party is not really a party—it’s a widely held (loosely or tightly) belief. Such belief could be, and most often is, tied up in a labyrinth of other issues.
To assume that some people believe in inequality is a mistake. Just like assuming those who voted for Trump also support inequality; there’s more to their vote than just one issue. (For over a century political strategies included the “single issue platform” and we have learned to vote according to one, perhaps two, issues. Yet there are many more that need to be considered). We do not know the narratives or backgrounds of, and influences upon, other people. Much like the scene in Good Will Hunting, does reading “Oliver Twist” encapsulate the identity and personality of all orphans? No. It takes time, effort and intense curiosity* to understand anyone, including those who support President Trump and/or inequality. This takes practice. Yes, practice. It is easy to fall back into positions and ignore, forget or lose sight of interests.
Below is a quick list to practice to assist in effecting change. It is part of the next step and not a checklist for completion of the goal:
- A position is the outward efforts used to secure or promote an interest. Often, positions are confused with interests, but they can be quite different. Try to find your interests in (much) smaller issues, such as your favorite restaurant, or sports team, or pair of shoes
- Do not assume you know what the other person believes or is thinking. Would you be comfortable with them doing so about you?
- Do not assume you know why they believe, think or act as they do
- To address a problem, it must first be understood. To understand it, it must be identified. To be identified, questions of curiosity* need to be asked
- Such questions should be asked of one’s self as well. Every time an answer is given, ask “why is that?” Sounds annoying, and it is, but it is also crucial
- Separate the person from the problem. Once a position or argument moves to ad hominem attacks or assumptions, progress is at best halted, and more often than not, it is destroyed
- Recognize a false dichotomy. Much of the world is not “either/or” as there are important factors between the extremes. We see this a lot in political arguments: If someone does not agree to A then they oppose B-Y, and are therefore in the Z camp. This false dichotomy divides America more than anything else. Find the in-between
- Recognize that the other person is just that: A person. Chances are they are not the devil incarnate, hold Nazi beliefs or want to live on welfare their whole life. They share many of the same interests as you. It’s up to you to find and illustrate these
- Be curious*, refrain from judgment and welcome questions from others, keeping responses on topic and away from personal attacks
* Curiosity. In the political climate, we tend to ask questions in order to find out if the responder is either with us or against us. The “got ya” questions run rampant in this type of atmosphere, but they don’t really accomplish anything aside from perpetuating a false dichotomy and stagnating efforts of progress. Questions of curiosity seek answers for themselves and not to judge. They help us learn and we must ask such questions with that goal in mind. Learning to improve ourselves, not pigeonhole others.
Example: Mr. Trump’s comments about women that were recorded on a bus. Many judged him on the spot and resisted his campaign. I am not saying these people are wrong. I would encourage questions of curiosity: Why would he say such things? What happened in his life that would lead him to feel it is OK and proper to say such things? What was his goal to say what he did? Did he actually do what he said he did? And, what influenced him to act the way he said he did? In other words, what shaped his personal identity that affected his actions and words? From these questions we can learn more about external influences on Mr. Trump—and since these are external to him, then they are capable of affecting anyone. We must strive to understand those so we may address them and effect change.
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